Several symptoms of stress don't actually look like stress - and because of that, we may ignore them. But untreated stress causes conflict, burnout, and a reduced quality of both work and life, so catching stress early is critical. Stress doesn't like to be ignored, and when we fail to acknowledge and deal with our stress, it has a way of cropping up in other areas of our lives.
To identify some of the more difficult-to-catch signs of stress, be on the lookout for these four hidden signals:
Stress Could Be Making You More Forgetful
If you've been brushing off increased forgetfulness as a sign of aging, think again. Stress impairs your working memory, making it difficult to remember what you are doing. Research suggests that if you are feeling more distracted and forgetful than usual, stress could be the culprit.
Stress Could Be Making You More Fatigued
While fatigue is a well-known symptom of clinical depression, it can also be a sign that your body is trying to avoid coping with a stressor. You may brush off your increased fatigue as a natural reaction to working too hard – which it could be – but if you are getting a good night's sleep yet still always feel sleepy, stress may be to blame.
Stress Could Be Making You More Aggressive
Many people who ignore their stress find themselves behaving with misplaced aggression, taking it out on other people who aren't the cause of the stress. If you've ever seen a dog attack its sibling when it can't reach a squirrel on the other side of the fence, you've seen misplaced aggression. We sometimes lash out at others when we can't show our anger where it's really warranted.
Stress Could Be Making You More Passive
On the flipside of aggression, a brain under stress can try to conserve mental energy by "checking out" and refusing to participate. If you find yourself suddenly passive on issues that usually get you excited, it might be a sign of too much stress in your life.
Hey, I was experiencing one of these four signs! What do I do?
If you realize you are suffering from one of these lesser-known symptoms of stress, begin by taking positive steps to control your workload, both at the office and at home. Are you spending time on activities that are "urgent" at the expense of activities that are more important? Are you saying "yes" to everything that everyone asks of you, even if it's impossible to fit it all in? Once you streamline your workload as much as possible, be sure to build mental breaks into your day. Particularly when working on stressful activities, short mental breaks allow your brain a chance to switch out of the panic mode it can sometimes get trapped in.
Finally, try to prevent "stress-bleed." Often, when we're stressed in one environment, we allow that stress to carry over into other realms of our lives. If you've ever snapped at your partner after a hard day of work, you know what that feels like! Create routines that limit stress bleed, like listening to music during your commute to build in a little mental buffer between work and home. Having a buffer doesn't mean you don't talk about your work day at home and your home life at work, but it does mean that you don't carry the stress with you from one place to the other.
Don't let stress be the boss of you. Recognize these four often-hidden stress symptoms and nip them in the bud before they threaten your happiness and success.
Courtney Clark works with people to build accelerated resilience, so they can adapt faster and achieve more. She is the author of two books, "The Successful Struggle," and "The Giving Prescription." Courtney is a three-time cancer survivor, a brain aneurysm survivor, keynote speaker, and founder of a nonprofit. CourtneyClark.com